The Arrest of Jesus in Gethsemane


47While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, 48but Jesus asked him, "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?" 49When Jesus' followers saw what was going to happen, they said, "Lord, should we strike with our swords?" 50And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. 51But Jesus answered, "No more of this!" And he touched the man's ear and healed him. 52Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, "Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? 53Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns" (Luke 22:47-53).

Judas knew the place where Jesus often slept through the night, so he brought a detachment of Roman soldiers and officials from the religious elite. The Greek word speira, translated as "detachment" (John 18:3), is a term to designate a specific subgroup of Roman soldiers sent from the Antonia Fortress situated to the north of the Temple Mount, where Pilate, the Roman governor, had his garrison. This subgroup consisted of 450 fighting men, in addition to those sent from the Chief Priests and Pharisees. Some scholars have estimated that there may have been as many as six hundred soldiers and men sent to arrest Jesus.

Why so many? It was likely that they were expecting a fight and that there might be more of Christ’s disciples in the garden with Him. They brought lanterns because, perhaps, they thought Jesus would hide. The Lord didn’t wait for them to come looking for Him, He took the initiative; He went out of the garden to them (John 18:4). His concern was for His disciples so that His prayer of protection in John 17 would be answered during the arrest. He was in control of the whole situation. The apostle John gives us a bit more information as to what happened. Jesus asked them, “Who is it you want?” 5“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I am he,” Jesus said (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) 6When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground (John 18:4-6). What do you think caused the soldiers to fall to the ground? What was happening?

Roman soldiers were not known to be fearful about anything, and they certainly were not known to fall on the ground. They were ready for anything as they approached the garden. Imagine the scene. When they said they were looking for Jesus, the Lord replied uttering the divine name in Greek, the name of God, “I AM” (egō eimi). Some of you have the words, I am he in the text, but the word “He” is absent from the original Greek and added by the translators to make the statement easier to understand in English. Again, and again, in the Gospels, we have seen Jesus adding the name of God to different aspects of His character. I am the Gate; I am the Good Shepherd, I am the Light of the World, I am the Way, etc. When He said those words, this was a display of raw spiritual power before these soldiers. Jesus was letting the soldiers know that He was willingly giving Himself into their hands. What a picture it must have been, hundreds of men floored and terrified of one Man and His eleven disciples, and only one of them using a sword in defense. Keith Thomas


Taken from study 60 in Luke: Jesus at Gethsemane.